Crying: How Much is Too Much?

006THD_Cameron_Diaz_133Every year when you fill out AAR’s annual poll, we ask you for your biggest tearjerker. For me, some years it’s a no brainer, and sometimes I really have to think about it. On the whole, I’m not a frequent weeper. I’m not like Cameron Diaz in The Holiday (if you haven’t seen it, she can’t cry…until the end), but I don’t really cry at Hallmark commercials either (do they even still have those? I have DVR.)

A couple of weeks ago, I read a book that made me think about how much I want to cry, and how much is too much. My book club read Still Alice, a good book – very good – about a Harvard Psychology professor who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. It’s told from Alice’s point of view, in a completely believable way. I couldn’t put it down, and I basically cried my eyes out for hours. I think anyone would find it sad, but it hit really close to home for me. I had a grandfather die of Alzheimer’s, and my beautiful, smart, funny Aunt Susan died of early onset Alzheimer’s. So I spent the night crying for the fictional Alice, her children, my Aunt Susan, and my cousins who lost their mom so early and in such a cruel way. Then I started crying for myself too, since both my parents died in their forties (not of Alzheimer’s, but the point was that I lost them when I was young, so I started reliving my own loss). I couldn’t deny that this book was fabulous, but neither could I say I enjoyed it.

I wouldn’t say I seek out tearjerkers, but after some contemplation I decided that I don’t mind feeling sort of emotional. Tearing up, maybe. What I don’t want to do is cry buckets and wallow in self pity. It also doesn’t help that I’m basically terrified that I may one day get Alzheimer’s myself, and I don’t want to read about things that really, truly scare me. It’s the same impulse that makes me avoid romantic suspense books if they involve kidnapped children or child-molesters.

Even if I include Still Alice, I barely need both hands to count the books that have made me cry during my lifetime. Part of that may be an avoidance of tearjerkers, but I have enjoyed memorable books that made me cry a little. Emily’s Quest by L.M. Montgomery was a genuine tearjerker for me in high school. I stayed up all night reading, and cried when she finally got together with Teddy. I’m not sure whether the tears were from happiness or exhaustion. And it’s been years, but I don’t think I could ever forget the scene in Lorraine Heath’s Always to Remember. If you’ve read it, you’ll likely know what I mean: Right at the beginning, when Clayton is nearly executed for refusing to fight in the Confederate army, and calmly asks for a belt because he’s so starved that his pants are about to fall off. I’m pretty sure that’s the only time I’ve cried at the beginning of a book. Always to Remember has to be my all-time tearjerker romance. More recently, I teared up while reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. You know when: The sad part.

My most surprising tearjerker? Wait for it…Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hatches an Egg. I know, I know. It was a favorite of my youngest son when he was little, and to this day I can’t read “And it should be, it should be, it SHOULD be like that! Because Horton was faithful; he sat and he sat…” without my voice breaking. It may just be the ultimate happy ending.

So that’s how I like to cry. A little. When Beth dies in Little Women. When Andy gives away his toys in Toy Story 3. That kind of crying, not the truly depressed kind. What about you? What are your tearjerker books and movies? Do you actively seek out ones that will make you cry?

- Blythe Barnhill

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51 Responses to “Crying: How Much is Too Much?”

  1. Tee says:

    I don’t have much to say about crying because I do it so infrequently while reading books and watching movies—but I have done it. I agree that “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova was an excellent novel and Alice’s decline with her disease was indeed sad. The fact that it was in first-person made it even more dramatic. I read it when it first came out some years ago and it still resonates with me and I recommend it often, even several times on this site.

    If I recall correctly, “A Rose for Maggie” by Kathleen Korbel and “The Beach House” by Georgia Bockoven had tender moments interspersed that brought tears at times. Both were very well-done novels. I know there are other books out there where I responded that way, but not many. Sometimes the tears appeared because of the tenderness of the moments, rather than the sadness.

  2. Leigh says:

    No, I don’t seek out books that make me cry but sometimes it sneaks up on me. Usually I cry at a death of a character, even if it is not a main one.

    Susan Mallory wrote a women’s fiction type book that just broadcasts a character’s illness but my response to her death caught me by surprise. It brought to the surface again, my feelings after the death of my mother. Robyn Carr made me cry too, when one of her characters dies.

    I have a family member in hospice now, also suffering from Alzheimers and that is difficult enough so no I am not seeking out movies or books to make me cry.

    Wasn’t that a wonderful scene in Toy Story 3? I completely agree with you. Touching scenes are the way I want to cry, not with heartbreaking sadness.

  3. Jean Wan says:

    Oh man. Lymond Chronicles #4. If you’ve read it, then you know what scene I’m talking about, and golly gee, I wept and wept and wept.

    Honestly, to this day I still haven’t re-read the series, I think because I’m too frickin’ scared of that scene.

  4. maggie b. says:

    Little Women definitely left me in tears. Still does. The last cry I can remember is when watching the movie Taking Chance. Seeing the real life pictures of the boy that was gone still makes me teary.

  5. yay to the Lymond Chronicles. More than once. But “Pawn in Frankincense” for sure, and That Scene, but there is another, gentler scene in it that does it for me. When Mikael asks Francis how old he is.

    Robin Schone’s “Gabriel’s Woman,” the last sex scene, the one with the fairy story. It’s unutterably poignant.

    And when I’m writing, I sometimes cry. I recently wrote the last Richard and Rose story, and I cried while I was writing it.

  6. LeeAnn says:

    When Nixie Swisher in J. D. Robb’s “Survivor in Death” says goodbye to her family in the morgue – no matter how many times I read it (and it’s been often) my heart breaks for her.

  7. LeeB. says:

    I read the Susan Mallery book Leigh mentioned and yep, I remember tearing up at the character’s death.

    Two books which made me cry a LOT: The Bronze Horseman and Tatiana & Alexander.

  8. Wendy says:

    I guess I’m a “watering pot”. Sometimes when I’m stressed I’ll seek out books that I know are going to make me cry, and sometimes they take me by complete surprise.

    Kristan Higgins has two that get me every time. I’m not sure of which titles without looking them up, but the one where the heroine’s old golden retriever dies and the one where the heroine is contemplating the rainbow bridge both make me cry real tears.

    One surprising tear jerker is Susan Squires No More Lies. At the end where the H/h are so completely helpless and the situation is so horrible and desperate…wow, tearing up now. I’ve read it several times so the end is no longer a surprise, but I remember how traumatizing it was to read the first time.

  9. DabneyAAR says:

    I just sobbed my way through a Kristan Higgins book because the subject matter–adoption–was on my mind. (My husband, at 57, made contact with his birth family.) I sobbed so hard in “The Time Traveler’s Wife” that I couldn’t breathe. And I adore that book. I think art that moves you to tears can be great. On the other hand, the movie “We Once Were Warriors” was so sad I can’t ever see it again. It was the kind of sad that just depresses rather than makes you feel as though you are grateful for the love and life you’ve been given. The tears elicited by Toy Story 3 are the latter.

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  11. merrymay says:

    The list of novels that I sobbed over are:

    Linda Howard’s – Sarah’s Child, Cry No More, Loving Evangeline
    Elizabeth Lowell’s – To the Ends of the Earth (I think it was a reissue of The Danver’s Touch
    Nicole Jordan’s – The Heartbreaker and The Lover

    The Lover novel completely took me by surprise because NJ wrote…….the hero getting caught by the heroine committing adultery. Apparently she received a lot of grief over this ‘transgression’ and reissued the novel without that scene. I literally felt the heroine’s pain when I read this scene in the novel and thought it was so moving and really upset at NJ for omitting this scene in the re-issue of The Lover.

    Judith McNaught’s – Until You, A Kingdom of Dreams, Double Standards

    Brenda Joyce’s – The Conqueror

    I am sure there are a few more novels I left off my list, but these were pretty memorable for me.

  12. Tracenga says:

    The Book Thief. :`) <3 <3 <3

  13. Azure says:

    Portrait in Death, by J.D. Robb–When Eve has to tell Crack his sister is dead, and then has to take him to identify his sister’s body because he refuses to believe her.

    Something Wonderful by Judith McNaught–when the servant (I forget his name now) tells Jordan about Alexandra’s childhood, and then what she faced when she came to London after Jordan’s “death.”

    Cry No More by Linda Howard–the end. Oh, the end broke my heart.

    I’m sure there are others, but those are the three that stand out in my mind.

  14. Quilt Lady says:

    I enjoy watching movies and reading books that make me cry. Everyone needs a good cry every now and then. Loved the movie The Holiday. Books would be Gone With the Wind. A Prince for Jenny by Peggy Webb.

  15. xina says:

    When I first read this article this morning, I was thinking that I really don’t have that many books that have made me cry. I had some time to make a list and I guess I do have many more than I originally thought. On my bookshelf and in my keepers…(just to name a few)
    The Bronze Horseman (the ending…oh, my)
    Marley and Me (couldn’t bring myself to read the death of the beloved dog. The movie was painful for me to watch…really painful holding in my tears in a public theatre)
    Falls The Shadow..Joanna dying and Llewelyn thinking that she will survive. *sob*
    The Time Traveler’s Wife
    I Know This Much Is True
    The Pillars of the Earth
    Courtesan by Diane Haeger (based on a true story makes it all the more heart-wrenching)
    Reason To Believe by Kathleen Eagle
    This Is All I Ask by Lynn Kurland..the ending when he is making his way up the cliff to meet her. He is blind..it is not easy.

    As for movies, I just recently saw The Help. I actually went to it twice. Parts are funny, some of it is horrifying, and some parts cry-worthy. Bring kleenex if you see it.

  16. sula says:

    The scene in Dragonfly in Amber when Jamie sends Claire back to the future…even though I know that they will see one another again, it breaks my heart.

  17. Leigh says:

    While not about books. . . I found this today, and it made me tear up.
    I have two dogs that are going on 12, so this will be me one day.

    http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/heavy_petting/2011/09/the_perfect_day.html?GT1=38001

    • Tee says:

      Leigh: While not about books. . . I found this today, and it made me tear up.
      I have two dogs that are going on 12, so this will be me one day.

      Now that was very sad, Leigh. I had to run through the article, because I could barely read it through the tears.

  18. xina says:

    Leigh, That article is very nice…very sweet. The death of a beloved pet is not easy, My favorite poem that deals with this loss is The Rainbow Bridge. I have it hanging in my kitchen. Our vet sent it after the death of our 17 yr. old sheltie years ago. Since then, I have lost 2 more dogs and that poem has comforted me. I try to enjoy every day with my dogs and cat. And I also have massive amounts of photos. :)

    • Tee says:

      xina: Leigh, That article is very nice…very sweet. The death of a beloved pet is not easy, My favorite poem that deals with this loss is The Rainbow Bridge. I have it hanging in my kitchen. Our vet sent it after the death of our 17 yr. old sheltie years ago.

      Could you pass on the poem, xina? I’d be interested to read it. That’s only if it’s short enough to retype. Otherwise, don’t bother. Thanks.

  19. Sarah says:

    Judith McNaught’s Paradise, Perfect and Once and Always, I love these books but they make me cry. When I was a teenager I read Say Goodnight, Gracie by Julie Reese (sp?)-Deaver. I cried buckets, sobbed hysterically, but I love it. I read it to this day, fifteen years later.

    I am a watering pot. I cry because of books, movies, songs, commercials. I do! It’s ridiculous, but one thing I do not do is cry when I’m happy. So, I tend to avoid books that will make me cry.

    As far as crying at Dr. Suess, Oh, The Places You’ll Go. I cry every time I read it to my daughter. I don’t know why, it just touches a cord with me.

  20. Audrey says:

    I must admit I’m a cryer, I tear up on a daily basis especially now that I’m 50ish. My list would be long, long, long. But the movie Up, now that one made me really cry. And I cannot read Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever to my grandchildren because I cry every time.

  21. Susan says:

    I like emotional books, so I have read a lot of them. Flowers From the Storm about killed me.

    JD Robb, good heavens I cry for Eve and/or Roarke all the time. So many touching or wrenching scenes in those books.

  22. Leigh says:

    Tee, I am not Xina. . . . but I did a search and come up with this:

    Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
    When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

    All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
    They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

    You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

    Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together….

    Author unknown…

    • Tee says:

      Leigh: Tee, I am not Xina.. . . but I did a search and come up with this:

      Thanks, Leigh. See, xina, someone did your homework for you. That was a comforting poem. I am one who believe St Francis did not come in vain. He is the saint of the animals for a reason. All pets go to heaven. LOL

  23. Nuwanda says:

    @Leigh : thank you for this text, it’s very pretty. I lost my cat recently and like to think he’s in a happy, happy place like this!

  24. xina says:

    Thank you Leigh! Sorry Tee, I didn’t see you post until just this minute. I do like that poem. It is particularly comforting just after a pet dies. I’ve sent this to many friends. :)

  25. Fran says:

    I also read Still Alice recently and yes I cried. It was a scary and enlightening book. I thought it was well done. Had to pull out the tissues for Barbara Delinsky’s Three Wishes and LaVyrle Spencer’s Twice Loved. And speaking of children’s books, I read Charlotte’s Web many times to my children, and I cried every time.

  26. wenmc says:

    The most I’ve ever cried over a book was “The Notebook” by Nicholas Sparks. I read it years ago and the issue of Alzheimers made me weep. I don’t think I will seek out Still Alice, b/c my grandma died from Alzheimers. It’s hard to remember other specific books, although someone mentioned Kristan Higgans and I remember crying about the golden retriever dying too. I also cried at the end of Toy Story 3, who didn’t?

  27. August says:

    I never seek out books that would make me cry, partly because it wouldn’t work very well since I never cry while reading. I’m a guy but I don’t really think it’s that; a couple of my uncles are the biggest criers I know. It’s just not a regular reaction I have.

    But even if it was, I wouldn’t do it on purpose, because I read to feel entertained/amused, and feeling sad enough to cry doesn’t fit in with that. I don’t personally understand why anyone would want that, but to each their own eh.

  28. Laine says:

    I finished Anything for Danny by Carla Cassidy a Sillhouette Special release with the tears dripping down my face. I usually avoid anything sad as it depresses me for days. I really didn’t expect a category romance to be able to do that. Note: this book does have the usual HEA for the couple but there’s a heap of sad in there too.

  29. lauren says:

    No…never have cried when reading…yes…I have sighed and I have expressed sadness and at times have to put the book down for a period of time and come back to it.

  30. Carrie says:

    I’m not a crier. I’ve been very moved emotionally while reading, but I can’t remember actually tearing up. Movies will sometimes make me tear up. The last time I remember is when a main character dies in the movie, Serenity. I’d been a big Firefly fan and was dumbstruck at the death. Otherwise, I tend only to cry over real events, or movies/books based on real events.

    I don’t seek out sad books or even books with angst. Like August, I read (and watch movies) for entertainment and escape. Real life gives me plenty of opportunity for sadness and angst. I think some people deal with the stress of life by looking for cathartic experiences, like reading tearjerkers. It helps them process and relieve stress. I get that. But for me, it only builds more stress. I look for mostly lighthearted romances or action/suspense books for escape from the stress.

  31. Nifty says:

    I rarely feel moved to the point of tears or anger or laughter by the books I READ. But LISTENING to them on audio can elicit all sorts of strong emotions. (I recently listened to The Help on audio and found myself tearing-up and laughing out-loud and seething with anger quite often.) I’m also vulnerable when I’m WATCHING a movie or TV show or even a commercial or short YouTube video. (Throw some dogs in there, a display of mass human generosity, or a crying man, and I’m a goner.)

    Maybe it’s just that my SENSES are not particularly involved when I’m reading. Maybe when I’m reading the words in the silence of my mind, my senses aren’t engaged and that’s what keeps me feeling detached from the emotion in the scene. (I’m always aware of the emotion — just not profoundly affected by it.)

  32. WandaSue says:

    Only one book has ever make me burst out loud into tears. “The Bronze Horseman.” At the end. Those who have read it, will know which scene I mean.

    I was in the living room with my husband, reading while my husband watched TV. I shocked him into panic when, out of the blue, I literally exploded into tears.

    “What — ?” he asked. “What happened?!”

    “This is the SADDEST thing I have ever read…” I sobbed.

    And it was. Is. To this day.

  33. Susan/DC says:

    I’m not usually a crier, but I always need tissues at the end of “I Heard the Owl Call My Name” by Margaret Craven — not a romance, but a very, very good book. The story is so simply told and the characters and setting so beautifully drawn that I feel the tears are honestly earned. Also cried when Cedric died in the Harry Potter series (although not for Sirius, and I’m not sure why). However, I can’t think of a romance novel that made me cry — doesn’t mean there wasn’t one, just can’t remember.

    I actually think crying occasionally is healthy. I worked with a woman who said when she was stressed out in Real Life she purposefully watched sad movies in order to give herself permission to cry. The only time I cried easily was when pregnant; all those hormones meant I teared up in an instant. Still remember the time I cried at a GE commercial when the mom pulled the toddler’s teddy bear out of the dryer (not sure if that counts as a personal high or low).

    • Tee says:

      Susan/DC: Still remember the time I cried at a GE commercial when the mom pulled the toddler’s teddy bear out of the dryer (not sure if that counts as a personal high or low).

      Very funny, Susan.

  34. Sky says:

    I cried toward the end of the book “The Cat who’ll love forever” by Peter Gethers. It’s not a love story but the story is very touching. Peter Gethers wrote a trilogy on his cat Norton. It was such an adventure to read about Peter’s and his cat Norton’s adventure and relationship. The author did not like cats at all until he received a Scottish Fold Norton as a gift.

  35. I’m not a crier either, but The Velveteen Rabbit gets me every time.

  36. Julie L says:

    I’m a cryer so I don’t seek out books that I know are tear jerkers, but the one’s I’ve read are memorable and I’ve loved them. I too cry when I read “Love You Forever” – I always did when my son was little, I also cried reading him “Charlotte’s Web.”

    I’ve cried over tons of books, to name a few “A Town Like Alice”, “GWTW”, “The Bronze Horseman” and “The Summer Garden”, “Outlander”, “Dragonfly in Amber”, “The Fiery Cross” and there’s always at least one scene I’ll tear up over in every one of Julia Quinn Bridgerton books. I’ve cried over many more “The Rest Falls Away” by Colleen Gleason, “The Kite Runner”, “Falls the Shadow”, “The Time Traveler’s Wife”, “Sophie’s Choice”, “The Bridges of Madison County,” “The Notebook”, I know I’m forgetting a ton.

  37. Gayathri says:

    I cry when there is a really emotional scene either happy or sad. So as Azure pointed out, Portrait in Death, Survivor in Death (JD Robb) have made me cry.
    I had tears when Ian and Elizabeth meet again in JM’s Almost Heaven and when Alex wakes up in Something Wonderful.

    I cried watching Toy Story 3 – our entire family was sobbing!!

  38. Linda says:

    The book that made me cry was MORNING GLORY by LaVryle Spencer. In the begining Will was just out of prison and was starving to death. When his future wife took him in he was so grateful for the simple things, hot water, food, a haircut that it always breaks my heart to see a man deprived of so much that he believes that he will never be worthy of any affection at all. She treats him like a human being and he is so needy

    Gets me every time!

  39. Claire says:

    Certain children’s books really strike a chord in me like Love you Forever by Robert Munsch. I dare anyone to not cry by the end of that. Also, there was a childrens version of Sea Biscuit that had me crying. After 9/11 there was a beautifully illustrated book called the Man who Walked Between the Towers. When I get to the end of that, it brings it all back. Not books but movies that I cannot watch because I am a sobbing mess are the Color Purple, White Fang, and Forrest Gump.

  40. Carla Kelly says:

    Tale of Two Cities. I cried and cried, and then I cried some more. What the Dickens!

  41. Maryfranc says:

    The Book of Scandal by Julia London and Cry No More by Linda Howard were both tear-jerkers for me. Also the first chapter of The Last Hellion by Loretta Chase. Oh my. Still wishing Loretta Chase’s books were in audio format.

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